Few projectors have caused quite such a stir as Optoma's ThemeScene H30. It practically rewrote the rule book on what sort of quality we could expect to find on a budget product. So, you'll forgive us if we confess to being a wee bit excited by the arrival of the H30A... especially since the A stands for Advanced - as in 'equipped with significantly boosted specifications'. Hubba...
So, what exactly are these spec changes? Perhaps the most important is the use on the H30A of Texas Instruments' new Dark Chip 3 chipset, with its native widescreen shape and 3,000:1 contrast ratio (vs 2,000:1 on the previous H30).
The H30A's brightness is also up to 850 Lumens from 800, while the unit's throw distance has reduced slightly, to 1.65-2.0:1, making it much more friendly for your average-sized living room.
There are also a couple of handy changes in the H30A's onscreen menus. A particularly noteworthy one is a choice of scaling modes for 1080i high definition feeds. But we also got some mileage out of the provision of new zoom modes designed specifically to get rid of the black bars around 1.85:1, 1.66:1 and 2.35:1 films.
Having just mentioned high definition, it's a pleasure to report that the H30A should be compatible with Sky's hi-def broadcasts when they start, thanks to its (new) DVI jack being equipped with the all-important HDCP anti-piracy system.
It's perhaps a pity, given all this attention to high definition detail, that the H30A's native resolution is only 850 x 480, meaning therefore that scaling is required to 'fit' a high definition feed. But hey - maybe the scaling will turn out to be none too shabby...
In fact, there's nothing remotely shabby about any aspect of the H30A's pictures; they're nothing short of a revelation.
There are so many good points it's hard to know where to start, so our choice of contrast is completely arbitrary. Boy, are this projector's black levels great. Not only does the projector manage to deliver blacks that actually look black, but it does so without losing subtle gradations in detail in dark areas, or making dark areas 'glow'.
There's no over-emphasising the impact of this black-level response on the solidity and depth of field of the picture - it's the best we've seen on a budget projector. You feel you could just reach out and touch the world being shown.
Colours look fabulously vibrant too, benefiting immensely from the H30A's extra brightness and contrast. Arguably even more impressive than their sheer richness, though, is the complete naturalism of colours.
Perhaps the most surprising of the H30A's strengths is its fine detail response. Its relatively low native resolution would have led us to expect a slightly soft, textureless image, but in fact, pictures look packed with detail and clarity. The fact that this holds magnificently true for high definition sources proves that the H30A's scaling technology is something pretty special.
There are a couple of signs that this isn't, after all, a high-end projector. First, green dot crawl can appear during dark scenes. To be fair, provided you don't overcook the contrast or brightness, this only registers more or less subconsciously as a general sort of gentle dot crawl, but high-end projectors do suppress it better. The only other reason to think high-end instead is that the H30A sometimes leaves 'blanking lines' visible in the picture.
The fact that we're even bothering to bring in these high-end comparisons when discussing a projector costing under £1,200 if anything merely reinforces the H30A's recommendation. Seriously, if ThemeScene keeps turning out budget models this good, the high-end of the market could be out of business! John Archer